If you've listened to British radio today you may have heard that there will be a service this morning in Westminster Abbey to commemorate 100 years since the burial of the Unknown Warrior. Like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery less than a year later, the body was chosen from four unidentified British soldiers exhumed from four different battlefields in France and Belgium after the First World War, and represents those who died in the war and whose place of death is not known or whose remains are unidentified. To mark the anniversary, the UK had planned to run a number of events, but, of course, this ended up not being possible because of Covid. Likewise, the UK's normal Remembrance Day events, which take place on 11th November (the day the First World War ended) and the Sunday nearest to it and are usually attended by members of the public, have been greatly scaled back this year, with the usual parades and services cancelled.
However, remembering those lost in war, sometimes even those known to us in more recent years, remains an important act in the UK. Today, at 11am, may will observe two minutes of silence in memory of those who died. You may also have noticed a blossoming of red poppies on the lapels of people you pass on the street and see reading the news on TV, or seen veterans selling them outside stations (though, again, this has been much reduced this year.) The idea of the poppy as a symbol brings to mind the poppies that bloomed in the churned and scarred battlefields of the western front during WWI and the idea for adopting it as a symbol was in fact an American one – the humanitarian Moina Michael wrote: 'And now the Torch and Poppy Red, we wear in honour of our dead…'. She campaigned to make the poppy a symbol of remembrance of those who had died in the war and it has been used as such ever since. Buying and wearing one is in itself an act of remembrance here, but also an important means of raising funds to support veterans.
Like many things this year, even the Poppy Appeal has had to change with the times, and the Royal British Legion are taking donations for "virtual poppies" online.
Remembrance will mean different things to different people - you may have ancestors who fought or even died in the First or Second World War, or you may have friends and family who are serving in the Armed Forces right now. While you are in London, do take the time, if lockdown allows, to visit the Cenotaph, Westminster Abbey or the Imperial War Museum to find out the impact so many wars have had on the soul and landscape of the country you temporarily call home, and why we will always continue to remember.